On Saturday, Paul Rose put on a dry diving suit and walked to the end of a pier on scenic Lake Windermere, the largest natural lake in England. He plunged into the cold water.
“I had been underwater for 30 seconds when I bumped straight into a complete toilet,” Rose told Water Currents.
Rose, a British environmental activist, explorer, and BBC TV presenter, was leading a “debris dive” in the lake, to both clean the trash out of it and to raise awareness about dumping in the oceans around the world.
“I really like the connection between diving the lake and the oceans,” said Rose, who is vice president of the Royal Geographical Society. “People think the ocean is so vast that we can’t touch it and make a difference. But whilst cleaning inland lakes, people see they can make a difference, from plastics to any number of horrible toxins we are tossing in. It really caught people’s attention.”
Rose had previously helmed a similar lake dive on Lake Geneva in Switzerland. On Saturday, he led 362 volunteer divers and about 300 participants from boats and on the shore.
Lake Windermere is a popular recreation spot and is the centerpiece of Lake District National Park, in the county Cumbria in northwestern England. The narrow glacial ribbon lake is 11.23 miles (18.08 kilometres) long and has a surface area of 5.69 square miles (14.73 square kilometres).
Trash to “Treasure”
Rose and volunteers salvaged 10 tons of trash, about enough to fill a large shipping container. In addition to that toilet, the team removed 73 tires. They also collected fire extinguishers, marine batteries, mobile phones, sunglasses, and bottles.
“We found some lovely old objects,” Rose added, including ornate, carved smoking pipes from the Victorian era. They also found a message in a bottle, “from someone who was desperate not to lose their job, who wrote a letter to themselves almost.”
Rose tried to educate the public about the items they were finding. “We saw a lot of boat batteries, horrible lead acid things, and we asked youngsters to work out what effect would they have had?” He said the goal is to work such practical environmental problem-solving into school curricula.
“We did these lovely mathematical and science problems, saying ‘look at the amount of debris coming out of this lake ‘and asking ‘how does the volume equate to the oceans?'” asked Rose. “We took 73 tires, so we asked ‘what positive effect did we have?'”
Local school children are also working with professional artists to fashion sculptures out of the salvaged debris. “It used to be debris but we’re now calling it treasure. It’s really captured people’s attention,” said Rose.
Rose hopes to bring his cleanup-and-make-art concept to other lakes. “I find the art a very useful way to communicate the issue, especially if we engage the young,” he said.
He added that an orchestra also attended the event, in order to get inspired to create new music. Another group is taking artistic photos of the debris.
According to Rose, Lake Windermere was clear on the day of the dive, making it easier to pick manmade objects off the bottom. In the warm months, visibility isn’t as good, due to algal growth.
The volunteers were a hearty bunch, since the temperature outside was 3 degrees Celsius (37 degrees Fahrenheit). Most of the divers were wearing dry suits, although Rose said a few tough souls were rocking wet suits.
“I’ve spent most of my life diving in polar regions, so I’m used to cold water,” added Rose.
“You can pick a town like Geneva, Switzerland, or Windermere, Cumbria, and you can galvanize interst in the oceans,” said Rose.